The lawsuit that three graffiti artists filed against Roberto Cavalli S.p.A. for allegedly copying their work is still underway and the Italian fashion house is not faring well. You may recall that Jason Williams, Victor Chapa, and Jeffrey Rubin (who actually go by Revok, Reyes and Steel, respectively) filed suit in the Central District of California this past summer, claiming that Roberto Cavalli infringed their copyrights and violated the Lanham Act (namely, via false designation of origin), stemming from a work they completed in San Francisco’s Mission district in 2012.
The artists allege that Cavalli has been selling "exact copies of [their] original artwork" by way of his label’s “Graffiti” collection without their authorization. While the design house "unequivocally denies any wrongdoing," the court doesn't appear to agree. According to Andre Birotte, Jr, who is presiding over the matter, the signatures of graffiti artists on a San Francisco mural constitute copyright-identifying information and the inclusion of one of those signatures on Cavalli SpA apparel that contains imagery of the mural constitutes false designation of origin, a federal offense.
In case you are wondering what constitutes a false designation of origin claim, here you go. The Lanham Act (a federal trademark statute, which aims to protect consumers from confusion related to the origin or quality of a product or service and to protect the marketplace, so to speak, from unfair competition, which thereby would also harm consumers) provides for several causes of action, and false designation of origin is one of them. According to the statute:
Any person who, on or in connection with any goods or services, or any container for goods, uses in commerce any word, term, name, symbol, or device, or any combination thereof, or any false designation of origin, false or misleading description of fact, or false or misleading representation of fact, which (A) is likely to cause confusion, or to cause mistake, or to deceive as to the affiliation, connection, or association of such person with another person, or as to the origin, sponsorship, or approval of his or her goods, services, or commercial activities by another person.
Or (B) in commercial advertising or promotion, misrepresents the nature, characteristics, qualities, or geographic origin of his or her or another person’s goods, services, or commercial activities, shall be liable in a civil action by any person who believes that he or she is or is likely to be damaged by such act.
With that out of the way, what is the false designation of origin at issue here? Cavalli's use of the mural, as its reproduction contains the signatures of the graffiti artists. The inclusion of at least one of the signatures is significant as much like a trademark, the artists' signatures serve as an indication of source, and as a result, including that trademark on goods that come from a different source is a "false or misleading representation" and may result in confusion amongst the consuming public.
The case is still underway. So, more to come …